(FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – It’s that time of year! Patchy color is starting to pop in the North Carolina mountains, peak is expected by mid-October. Color turns a bit later in the Piedmont, late October into early November from the QC to the Upstate.
The vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges that pack our peak in the fall bring in tourists from all over the country. But to get the best color, the weather needs to cooperate.
The ideal ingredients for fantastic fall foliage are mild, sunny days and chilly nights. We want to steer clear of any big storms with wind, if the leaves fall off the trees too soon we’ll miss out on the color!
We also need the first frosts to be light, any hard freezes can kill flowers and plants too early in the season.
Last year, we had ideal conditions for a beautiful fall. Experts rated it a 9 out of 10. It was an important outlier because overall, fall foliage is becoming duller.
As our climate warms, summer is lingering longer, more extreme heat lingers later, and fall…is well, shorter! This means we’ll miss out on those mild days and chilly nights to get those leaves to shed their chlorophyll and drop their green.
For example, Asheville has seen nearly 5 more above average, warm fall days since 1970. This means there are at least 5 fewer days of ideal fall foliage conditions.
Warmer falls shorten the season and dull the color. Warmer falls can also make the timing of peaks more unpredictable. This is crucial to businesses who plan for the tourism boom that often comes with the bright, peak colors. Extreme rain, intense drought, and exposure to sunlight all also impact fall foliage.
Top Places to see NC Fall Foliage
In no particular order, here are the top places to see North Carolina colors in all their fall glory!
Companion peaks at Crowders Mountain State Park, The Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain, offer challenging hikes, towering cliffs and 25-mile views of the surrounding piedmont, according to NCParks.gov.
Eleven trails range from pastoral to strenuous, including the Ridgeline Trail, which links to Kings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina, park officials said.
Backcountry camping is featured with individual sites approximately a mile from parking areas. The rugged terrain of Crowders Mountain lends itself to rock climbing and bouldering with a permit in designated areas. A visitor center with museum-quality exhibits complements regular interpretive programs.
The changing of the leaves on Crowder’s Mountain, North Carolina. View from the Peak. (Getty Images)
Grandfather Mountain is a place of amazing biodiversity and scenic beauty that towers 5,946 feet above northwest North Carolina, according to grandfather.com.
A unit of the United Nations’ Southern Appalachian Man and Biosphere Reserve, the mountain is estimated to be 300 million years old – with certain rock formations dating back 1.2 billion years, park officials said.
One third of the mountain is operated as a scenic travel attraction by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, Inc. All proceeds from sales of tickets and souvenirs go toward preserving Grandfather Mountain and sharing its wonders in ways that deepen visitors’ appreciation of nature and inspire good stewardship of the earth.
Table Rock Mountain’s distinctive summit above Linville Gorge can be seen easily from many parts of the North Carolina mountains and foothills. The rocky summit is fun (and safe) to explore. The 2.2-mile roundtrip has some steep climbs, so it’s a bit strenuous. The views of Linville Gorge are spectacular from the 3,930-ft. peak. The road to the summit is open April-December, according to romanticasheville.com.
Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park is a nature lover’s paradise with a collaboration of spectacular views and incredible hiking trails.
Peak fall color is still weeks away for Hickory Nut Gorge, and most of the forest is still green. Due to much of the area being lower elevation mountains, the park typically sees their brightest colors in late October or early November, according to chimneyrockpark.com.
Uwharrie National Forest
The National Forest covers 50,000 acres in parts of Montgomery, Davidson, and Randolph counties. This forest has the scenic Uwharrie, Yadkin and Pee Dee rivers, as well as the Uwharrie Mountains. Various outdoor activities are permitted in the forest, including hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping and water activities, according to visitnc.com.
The Blowing Rock area offers some of the most beautiful, pristine mountains in the state of North Carolina. Check out their Fall Color Blog as they track the fall foliage, day-to-day!
Sugar Mountain is the epicenter for spectacular views and things to do in the High Country. Sugar Mountain is surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest, Blue Ridge Parkway and the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge, park officials said. See their Fall Guide for foliage forecast, scenic drives and more!
From the top of Sugar Mountain looking to the south. (Getty Images)
Few places in the North Carolina mountains have the variety of leaf-viewing options of Banner Elk. Nestled at 3,701 feet above sea level, Banner Elk normally reaches peak color around the third or fourth weekend of October. Leaves typically begin changing in late September or early October, followed by a vivid progression that often stretches into early November, according to bannerelk.com.
The Asheville area typically experiences one of the longest fall color seasons in the nation because of the wide variety of elevations and biodiversity found in the Blue Ridge Mountains, officials said.
The first signs of fall show in late September in the higher elevations (above 6,000 ft.) — these areas are reached by scenic drives of just 30-60 minutes from the city center. In the city of Asheville itself and surrounding lower elevations, colors will be strongest in October depending on conditions, according to exploreasheville.com. To view their complete 2021 fall color forecast, please click here!